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What is Cyber Stalking?

Words by
Jackie Baucom

JAN 11, 2024

What is Cyber Stalking?

A Chinese exchange student in Utah recently made national headlines after he was reported missing in a cyber kidnapping case. 17-year-old Kai Zhuang, was found safe days later, camping in freezing conditions. 

The story is bewildering, but not uncommon. The FBI said Chinese foreign exchange students have been recent targets in this criminal trend. 

So what is cyber stalking? How does it work? And does cyber kidnapping fit under the broader umbrella of cyber stalking?

illustration of cyber stalking

Cyber Stalking Definition

Cyber stalking is an extortion scheme that involves the persistent use of electronic communications to harass, intimidate, or threaten an individual, causing fear or emotional distress. It can occur through emails, social media accounts, texts, or other online platforms. 

Cyber stalking is often spoken of as a joke, with many memes poking fun at virtually stalking a crush. But there’s nothing funny about it when it crosses the line into dangerous territory such as cyberbullying, sextortion, identity theft, or the recent case of cyber kidnapping mentioned above.

Cyber kidnapping

Cyber kidnapping, also known as virtual kidnapping, is a subset of cyber stalking. Using an individual’s personal information, the perpetrator contacts the victim’s family, claims to have kidnapped the victim, and demands ransom money. Using pictures and audio to make the crime seem real, many families fall for it. However, the victim is never actually taken.

With the latest advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), images, videos (deepfakes), and voice recordings can easily be fabricated to mimic the victim. 
Sometimes, the victim is not even contacted at all, just their families. Other times, the victim is exploited to provide personal information, pictures, and audio recordings.

Many victims comply through negligence, while others obey threats due to fear — fear for their own safety, fear for their loved ones’ safety, or fear of sensitive information being leaked.

police officer and car pointing gun at hooded person with their hands up

Is Cyber Stalking a Felony?

Laws regarding cyber stalking vary across jurisdictions, but it’s typically considered a serious offense. 

In many regions, cyber stalking falls under harassment or stalking laws, which are often felonies or misdemeanors depending on the severity and frequency of the behavior. 

Penalties can include imprisonment, fines, or restraining orders. Consequences intensify if the stalking involves threats, explicit content, or physical harm.

illustration of magnifying glass of person on a computer screen

How to Report Cyber Stalking

Reporting cyber stalking is crucial to stopping harassment. Immediately cease communication with the perpetrator. Block them, report it to the platform, and call 911 if needed. 

Victims should document all instances of stalking, including screenshots, messages, and any other relevant information. Victims can contact their local law enforcement agencies and file a report.

Many social media platforms and websites also have ways to block harassing accounts.

illustration for blocking things online

How to Stop Cyber Stalking

The best protection against cyber stalking is prevention. Having regular, open conversations with kids about the dangers of cyber stalking is a critical part of keeping them safe online.

Here are a few basics that you could take time to discuss with your child:

  • Use strong passwords on online accounts
  • Enable privacy settings where applicable 
  • Refrain from sharing personal information online

That last point is especially important.

Seemingly innocent pictures posted online can say a lot about a child. Children may not be aware of what they are sharing, but they’re not the only ones. Even parents are guilty of posting pictures that include a child participating in an activity with the organization’s name in view, or wearing a school shirt, or even in front of their home with the house number visible.

The Right Device at the Right Time

In addition to educating kids on the ideas above, parents can guide kids through tech in steps by giving them the right amount of access for their age and maturity.

Having a way to contact your child at any moment can provide reassurance of their safety. Gabb devices all have GPS tracking with safe zones, so parents can have peace of mind knowing their kids are where they’re supposed to be.

Safe tech, such as the Gabb Phone 3 Pro, protects kids by not allowing them to download social media apps or web browsers. Gabb phones come with Gabb Guard, an advanced spam blocking technology for calls and texts, and Gabb Watch 3 is a great first step into tech that allows parents to control who a child can contact, or be contacted by.

Many cyber stalking attacks could be prevented simply by providing the right device for a child’s tech maturity. 

What are your thoughts on cyber stalking? Share with us in the comments below.

Comments

  • Shaun Brent Elliot Blair on Jan 28, 2024 07:04 PM

    Your posts are like a breath of fresh air I appreciate how you tackle difficult topics with grace and empathy

  • Scarlet Y. C. Pierce on Feb 08, 2024 08:24 AM

    This is such an informative and well-written post! I learned a lot from reading it and will definitely be implementing some of these tips in my own life

  • Gabb on Feb 08, 2024 10:09 AM

    We are so happy this was able to help. Thank you for the kind comment!

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